F4 Italy: Hamda Al Qubaisi finishes rookie campaign with P27 in red-flagged Vallelunga race 3
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
In an incident-filled and red-flagged Italian F4 final race of the year, Hamda Al Qubaisi closed her full rookie campaign with a P27 in Vallelunga, rounding out a learning oriented 2020 season.
Sunday at Circuito Piero Taruffi, Vallelunga, started with a big delay imposed by the awful weather conditions that had hampered the whole season finale of Formula Regional European Championship and Italian F4 Championship powered by Abarth.
Following the heavy rain overnight - which protracted into the morning and ultimately throughout the day - forced the cancellation of the second race of both categories, thus leaving the drivers with only one race to be contested on Sunday for the final day of the 2020 racing season.
Young Emirati racer Hamda Al Qubaisi endured a challenging final weekend at the Italian racetrack located just outside of Rome: the Abu Dhabi Racing driver has shown steady progress in her full rookie campaign - often proving great speed in dry-weather conditions - but struggled a bit more in the wet in the second part of the season, when the championship hit the coldest months in Europe.
Hamda, who claimed a double top-10 earlier this year with remarkable finishes at Red Bull Ring and Monza, had a rough qualifying in Vallelunga and lined up in P33 and P32 for the two final races of the Italian F4 season.
In Race 1, Al Qubaisi had a clean race and managed to recover eight positions to finish P25 on the wet tyres, as most of the field gambled for slicks.
“We decided to go with the strategy with the wet tyres - and I think it went well”, she commented after Saturday's race. “There were a lot of Safety Cars so that benefitted us towards the end."
The tyre strategy paid off and, while many drivers made mistakes and went off, Hamda had a very solid and mistake-free run.
“I’m learning a lot and I look forward to tomorrow”, she added, before the rain-affected season finale on Sunday.
Just as the cars went on pre-grid, another rain shower hit the track, forcing the race direction to deploy the Safety Car at the start of the race. Gabriel Bortoleto (Prema Powerteam) thus held the lead, ahead of Barnard and Bearman. Jonny Edgar led Gabriele Mini in fourth place. After only one lap behind the pace car, the race was red flagged for the downpour.
The Tatuus F4 cars made their way back to the pitlane, where they stood still for over 40 minutes before the conditions allowed the Safety Car to lead the pack again.
The new running time was set to 26 minutes, as the light in the Italian December afternoon was quickly decreasing.
The incredibly challenging grip conditions were also proven by Axel Gnos - the G4 Racing driver spinning behind the Safety Car in the middle of the field even before the green flag was waved. The race effectively started on lap 3: Bortoleto maintained the leadership, as several cars went wide at the Cimini corners.
Barnard dropped back to eighth, just as Hamda Al Qubaisi moved ahead of Armanni for P31.
Ferati and Catino were among the drivers to make a trip through the grass in the hectic first stages of the race, while Prema's Dino Beganovic was making up many positions and, after starting from the 20th grid slot, the Swede quickly recovered to P15.
Edgar and Mini advanced to second and third but, as the Brit found the edge with a series of fastest laps, the Red Bull-backed driver went on top on lap 6 by passing Bortoleto.
Francesco Pizzi (Van Amersfoort Racing) went off track and triggered another Safety Car with 9 minutes left on the clock. Meanwhile, Al Qubaisi was up to P29 with another smooth run.
The heavily disrupted race resumed on lap 8: it was a good start from Edgar, as Mini and Bortoleto battled out for second position. Kiril Smal also joined the action and made an opportunistic move stick on his Prema teammates, moving up to second place. The Russian, though, was back to fourth soon after as the compact group of frontrunners fought hard coming into the hairpin.
Jak Crawford also charged back and could close in on the Prema cars: when Mini and Smal made contact at Turn 3 on lap 10, the American drove past and snatched second place, only behind Edgar - who had extended his lead to over four seconds after the skirmishes for the runner-up spot.
Smal rejoined, but the SMP-backed F4 car had likely picked up damages in the collision and soon after the Russian driver was spotted again in the gravel - crucially bringing out the red flag.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had again recovered up to 25th place, but the red flag freezed the classification to the lap before the stoppage - ultimately handing the Emirati lady the 27th final position.
While the race victory went to Van Amersfoort's Jonny Edgar, the stewards' decision demoted Crawford to fifth and promoted Smal and Mini back on the podium, followed by Gabriel Bortoleto in fourth.
Dino Beganovic had a great run and rounded out the top-10.
Despite the unconventional ending of the 2020 season, Hamda Al Qubaisi had a positive season in the most competitive Formula 4 championship worldwide: besides the 3 points scored, she kept her focus on gaining valuable experience and made constant progress in the Iron Lynx-run #88 car.
After her first European racing campaign, Al Qubaisi will now make her return to her native Abu Dhabi.